Nick Clegg

The Lib Dem leader's pragmatic approach to coalition is costing his party votes.

While the Liberal Democrats were not annihilated in the Oldham and Saddleworth East by-election last week, the result is still a disappointing one for the party's leader, Nick Clegg. After all, last year he had people falling over themselves to agree with him.

At the general election last May, the Lib Dems lost out to Labour by just 103 votes in 'Old and Sad', as politicos have dubbed the seat; this time around, the opposition party romped home by a margin of more than 3500 votes.

It is hard to recall any British politician who has gone from zero to hero in the public estimation, then back down to something below zero, as quickly as Nick Clegg. This time last year, he was 'Nick Who?', but in the historic TV debates, Clegg presented himself as the honest new face of politics, and 'Cleggmania' gripped the nation. However, the inconclusive election result led to the first peacetime coalition for 70 years - and there has been little for him to smile about since.

Clegg's resolve to 'be a grown-up politician' in dealing with the deficit has meant breaking some policy pledges. The tuition fees U-turn earned him the dubious distinction of having his effigy burned during riots.

We asked David Prescott, the associate director of Commucan, MBA's social media and PR company, and the son of former Labour deputy prime minister John Prescott, and Trevor Hardy, founding member of The Assembly, which handled the Lib Dems advertising account during the general election, how Brand Clegg can be restored.

Diagnosis Two: industry experts on how Nick Clegg can win a clear vote of confidence

DAVID PRESCOTT, associate director, Commucan

Nick Clegg's performance in the televised debates transformed the last election and, as Conservative deputy chairman, Lord Ashcroft admits, it denied David Cameron a majority.

However, after the briefest of honeymoons, the ratings of Clegg, and his party, took a beating as they seemingly became a human shield for the Tories.

Before the election Clegg had an approval rating of 72%. Now it's about -23%. There's no denying that breaking a tuition-fees promise, The Telegraph's sting and the VAT rise will keep Clegg's party polling in single figures for the time being.

Nonetheless, there is an opportunity for the deputy prime minister to draw a line under it all and win back public trust. The public and media will soon start to focus on the effects of the cuts programme with George Osborne and Cameron poised to bear the brunt of the anger. The public accepts there have to be cuts but is divided on whether the coalition is going too far, so Clegg must be seen as a brake on the worst excesses.

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Nick Clegg


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